A true American hero

Dan Mazur said he only did what anyone would do when he abandoned his quest to reach the summit of Mount Everest to help rescue a man left for dead.

By Ryan O’Quinn / Special to the Malibu Times

Although he says he only did what anyone else would do, many people call Dan Mazur a true American hero. The adventurist and mountain climber, who was near the top of Mount Everest and decided to forego his push for the summit in order to rescue another climber in distress, spoke last Wednesday at the Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue.

Mazur brought slides and videos to the free presentation hosted by MJC&S and spent part of the evening answering questions from the curious and shying away from the praise from those in attendance.

“I was really surprised by the news coverage,” Mazur said of the rescue that took place on May 26. “I feel kind of embarrassed about the whole thing. At first I was a little shocked that someone I didn’t know wanted to talk to me about this. I hoped that something good could come out of this. Some kind of discussion maybe. I get to talk to schools and I love that.”

Indeed something good came of it and Mazur, 44, now spends a lot of time as a speaker who travels around the world talking about the rescue as well as promoting the Mount Everest Foundation, which helps raise funds for poor families living at the base of the mountain in Tibet and Nepal.

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Although the weather conditions were perfect last spring, and the time of day was just right and Mazur’s team felt in great health for the final ascent for the summit, they had come across an Australian man, Lincoln Hall, who had been left for dead by his team. Hall had spent the night with no food and no oxygen at 8,600 meters and was still alive.

Mazur said he noticed a bit of yellow just off the trail and assumed it was a tent at first when he went to investigate. The team, which consisted of Mazur, two other climbers and a local Sherpa, was completely shocked when Hall looked at Mazur and said: “I imagine you’re surprised to see me here.”

After further investigation, Mazur and his team realized that Hall was in worse shape than they had first assessed. Hall was hallucinating and kept taking off his gloves and hat, and unzipping his coat.

“I have never seen anything like that,” Mazur said. “He actually thought he was on a boat and wanted to jump overboard.”

In reality, Hall and Mazur’s team were sitting on a cornice near the top of the world. On one side of them was an 8,000-foot drop, and on the other a 6,000-foot drop. The deranged Hall kept inching toward the ledge wanting to leap from the boat he thought he was on.

Mazur began radioing various camps and finally found Hall’s group, who could not believe he was still alive. They had been inaccurately informed by a Sherpa and other team members that Hall had died on the mountain and they had already told his wife and family.

“We had been climbing all night and [Hall] was on a very steep ledge about 800 feet below the top,” Mazur said. “The sun had just risen. On one side of the ridge it was sunny and on the other side it was dark and cold. The temperature difference from one side to the other might have been 30 degrees.”

Mazur said they did not want to try to move Hall down the dark, cold side of the ridge, so they waited until the sun cooperated to move him. They used the time to mobilize a group of people who had had some sleep and were fresher to come help them.

“We had long discussions about what we would do if they didn’t come,” Mazur said. “It took hours to convince someone to come up there and help him out. We had to keep making sure this was going to happen over the radio and that took a long time.”

Mazur and his team realized their dream of reaching the summit of Everest was over as they stayed with Hall for four hours before the rescue team arrived. It then took Hall 11 hours to stumble two miles to the camp below.

Although Mazur said anyone would have done the same thing, he realized this wasn’t true. Two other climbers making their way to the peak walked past Mazur and the others, and refused to help.

“I think it got in the news because of what happened to David Sharp and what Sir Edmund Hillary said,” Mazur said. “I think that catapulted this story. One day mountaineers are the worst and the next day they are redeemed.”

Mazur referred to the British climber who had died 11 days earlier on his descent from the summit. Reportedly, 40 other climbers did not help Sharp who died under a rock overhang 450 meters below the top and 100 meters from Camp 3 below.

Hillary, the New Zealand-born mountaineer who was the first to reach the summit of Everest in 1953, criticized those who passed by Sharp, calling the actions unacceptable and said the quest for the summit had become too important.

Although he did not make the summit in this year, Mazur had reached the top of Everest on a trip 15 years earlier. Mazur said he was in the right place at the right time in 1991 when he was in Katmandu and convinced a Russian expedition bound for the summit to let him come along.

At a celebration party long after that expedition, Mazur discovered that his climbing partner, a Russian named Roman Giutashvili, may have been the oldest person to climb Everest, and only had one lung.

Mazur had helped his partner by carrying his oxygen and helping him walk for part of the descent.

“I don’t feel like I’m a hero,” Mazur said of Hall’s rescue. “I just did what everybody does, right? Isn’t that what you do?”

Dan Mazur divides his time between Seattle and Bristol, England. He has led more than 25 worldwide treks and expeditions.

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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